Australian women to sue Qatar over invasive airport strip-searches

Incident sparked global outrage about Qatar’s treatment of women

Namita Singh
Monday 15 November 2021 12:08
<p>File: A Qatar Airways aircraft is seen on the tarmac at Hamad International Airport in Doha </p>

File: A Qatar Airways aircraft is seen on the tarmac at Hamad International Airport in Doha

A group of Australian women who were strip-searched and subjected to invasive gynaecological examinations at Doha airport are suing Qatari authorities and the national airline, their lawyer said on Monday.

The incident took place in October last year when women on several Qatar Airways flights - including 13 Australians - were checked for whether they had given birth after authorities found an abandoned baby in a bathroom at Doha airport.

Global outrage ensued amidncerns about Qatar’s treatment of women. Sex and childbirth outside of marriage are punishable offences. Ahead of the World Cup, Qatar has struggled to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights, labour relations and democracy are credible.

Following the incident, Qatar’s prime minister apologised and one airport official was handed a suspended jail sentence. But a year on, the women say that their demands for redress are “being ignored”.

The women are seeking damages and allege assault, battery, trespass and false imprisonment by the Qatari government, Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority and Qatar Airways.

Damian Sturzaker, a lawyer with Sydney-based law firm Marque Lawyers representing seven of the affected women said that they want a formal apology, compensation, and protection for future passengers transiting through the airport.

"The group of women have suffered enormous distress on the evening concerned, now just over a year ago, and they continue to suffer distress and ill effects and trauma as a result of what occurred," he was quoted as saying by AFP.

“Sometimes you need to deploy a legal remedy in circumstances where either moral, or in fact even political or diplomatic pressure was getting nowhere.”

Mr Sturzaker said the lawsuit would be filed in Australia within weeks.

The threat of legal action follows after a year long efforts to mediate with Qatari authorities were ignored by the conservative gulf state. The Qatar Airways lawyers also said that the case has “no merit”, reported 60 Minutes, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, in their joint report.

One of the affected woman was flying back to Australia with her five-month-old son. Speaking to the three Australian media outlets, she described the whole ordeal as the “scariest moment” of her life.

“[The nurse] said ‘I need you to lay down on the bed’ ... and she grabbed my pants and my underwear and she stripped them. And for a second I just think my head was about to explode,” she was quoted as saying.

“It’s a humiliation and the abuse of power, the breach of my human rights. No one is allowed to touch me. No one is allowed to strip me naked without my consent.”

Qatar’s embassy in Canberra and Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by agencies

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